In 2005, a massive flood swept through majority of rural western part of India. Working with a local NGO, I went for flood relief operation in one of the most remote areas. The sight gives me shivers even today. We climbed a hill so as to survey the valley and the large expanse of the Deccan plateau. The once small stream had turned into a massive river. This juggernaut of brown unclean water came gushing from the mountains; crushing any kind of vegetation in its way. Small flora did not have a chance against the flow. The large trees were bent like weary old men. The once green fields were completely waterlogged. The swamps denied any kind of yield. The rain Gods were angry. Houses made mainly of wooden poles; straw and hay were completely destroyed. Frequent deluge did not allow the locals to rebuild them. I can only imagine the feeling when the walls of the place we call home; shake and fall and sweep away.
Children from nearby villages followed us up the hill. Naked waist up with old torn pants. They were looking at us like we are some kind of Gods from a different world. I gave them chocolates that I generally carry if I don’t get food. Besides, kids show us all the village routes. I took a deep breath and followed it through with a sigh. We were there to rebuild those shelters. The expanse of the devastation was overwhelming. We decided to start from a small village in the valley. Our team leader pointed at the most affected one. Their roofs completely razed, we could see people camping out in the open.
We followed the children down to the village. We saw an old man with disheveled hair, sitting with his knees tucked to his chest. He was looking up at the sky through his almost shut eye slits, exposing his crooked dirty teeth.
“We won’t survive another downpour” he almost cried when he said that. “And you come here with your cameras and phones.”
We convinced him that we were there to help.
We carried huge posters made of strong plastic. We had collected them from outdated advertisements from hoardings along the highways. We divided ourselves in teams. We cut these posters and stitched them to the wooden poles to make a roof. Our organized efforts helped us construct multiple such roofs within a few hours. This sturdy plastic poster material was much more water resistant and strong than the straw roofs.
The old man had tears in his eyes when he held my hand. He raised it to his forehead and bent down as if saluting my efforts. We walked out of the village like celebrities on red carpets with the villagers cheering us. Our team started going back after building a dozen such shelters.
Reaching the top of the hill, I looked back. The whole village looked blue. This was because we had cut a poster of “Idea”, a telephone network company, which had blue advertisement hoardings.
One roof stuck out. It said “I can change your life”. Coincidentally, the roof on that house got cut in such a way that Idea’s slogan; “An Idea can change your life” had got a meaning that I could have never imagined. The poster actually changed the villagers’ lives and I had my tiny contribution to it. Their everyday fight with rain, wind and cold had just ended.
I took a deep breath and followed it through with a sigh. This was the first time when I had tears of happiness. I froze looking up at the heavens. I always thank God that He showed me this moment. My existence on this earth mattered for that small instance in time. I knew what my life’s goal was. I wanted more of these moments. I wanted to touch more lives because of how I felt doing it. The whole purpose of my being was summed-up in those couple of breaths of fresh air. That was when I was closest to “Happiness”.